Sunday, August 28, 2016

Homily – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Guillermo’s Story

SIRACH 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
HEBREWS 12:18-19, 22-24A
LUKE 14:1, 7-14

Jesus is in a tight spot again.
He’s talking to a hostile audience of Pharisees and lawyers.  As Luke’s Gospel puts it, the guests had Jesus under close scrutiny.  These are people who had grudges with Jesus and were lying in wait for him to slip up and say something they could persecute him with.
To add insult to injury, this is the Sabbath and a few moments before today’s Gospel passage, Jesus cured a man of “dropsy.”  This is a no-no to some in Jesus’ world on the Sabbath.
But Jesus seizes the moment to feed our souls with a lesson in humility.  
Jesus is teaching us how to approach Him, how to approach God and how to approach heaven. Not as people believing ourselves worthy of something, but as people who are totally dependent on the mercy God for our very being, for every gift in our life, and for our potential future entrance into heaven.
Webster’s Dictionary defines humility as:
“The quality or state of NOT thinking you are better than other people”
In God’s eyes, we are humble when we are free of pride and arrogance. 
God desires us to not think of ourselves as better than others.  That kind of thinking only generates bitterness and division, and can lead to embarrassment when we overstep our place with God and with our brothers and sisters.
In other words, if we walk around with our noses up in the air, we may land flat on our faces.
One bible scholar says the Mediterranean world was an honor-shame based culture and “the social gaffe of overstepping one’s station, such as Jesus describes, would have been a mortifying experience.”  But he says this “points to the proper disposition toward God and how we define our need for God’s salvation in our lives. Social self-inflation is equated with spiritual self-inflation.
Do any of us see ourselves as better than others?  Do any of us see ourselves as more worthy than others for God’s mercy? Do any of us see ourselves as righteous enough to be worthy of heaven… without God’s help?  Or do we see our unworthiness and total dependency on God’s love and grace for everything in our lives, including our entrance into heaven?
This is the lesson Jesus wants us to learn this weekend. 
Drop our airs of self-importance.  Get real.
And again as part of this lesson, Jesus wants us to pay attention to the poor, the marginalized, and the outcast.
Jesus goes on to remind his fellow guests and us that a true act of generosity is one given to someone who can give us nothing in return, who cannot repay us, whose very social standing carries with it no prestige, no honor.
This is the exact way Jesus went about doing good, by emptying himself for others (especially the poor, marginalized and outcast) without counting the costs.
Once again, Jesus is sharing what’s expected of us as we build up the Kingdom here on earth.  
I’m reminded of something that happened earlier this year.
In early January, an Archbishop Murphy High School sophomore came up to me in Campus Ministry, and said, “Deacon Dennis, we need to help the people affected by the Bluff’s Apartment fire.” 
The Bluff’s Apartments house very low income families near Casino Road, many of them Hispanic.
I said, “Sure, Guillermo.  We can do something.  Do you know someone who lives there?”
He said, “Yes, I do, because I used to live there.”
Guillermo told me his family has limited means (as did most who lived in the apartment complex).  With little siblings, his heart ached for the kids who lost their Christmas presents in the fire.
By the way, Guillermo’s family belongs to the Spanish language community in our own parish.
I asked him what should we do? He said, “Could we raise funds for the families on campus?”
The following week, we held our Martin Luther King Jr. Mass. I asked him to come up and speak about the need and ask his classmates and teachers and the entire school community to dig deep and give to these burned out families who lost so much.
The response was great. When all was said and done, Guillermo’s fund raised nearly 7-thousand dollars for the people of the Bluff’s Apartment complex.
A week or so later, we invited the families to Immaculate Conception after Sunday Mass and Guillermo handed each one of the 20-plus families hundreds of dollars in donated cash.
Some cried as they received the money. Some embraced Guillermo with a big hug. Others just humbly expressed their gratitude to Guillermo and shook his hand. 
I’ve posted a picture from the experience and an article on Guillermo that ran in the Herald a few days later on my blog at     Link to article on Guillermo in the Herald

Guillermo is a soft-spoken, humble young man. He's at a prestigious private Catholic high school, but Guillermo remembers his roots. He remembers the community from which he comes and does not consider himself better than them, but seeks what's best for his friends in need.
          Jesus is pointing a finger at Guillermo’s example and asking us to follow it in our daily lives.
We live in some of the richest zip codes on the planet.
People from poorer parts of the world would give anything to live where we live and live how we live.
We are blessed to have been born into this wealthy society.  We are blessed with plenty, especially when compared to the rest of the world.  
As we heard in today’s first reading on the importance of humility from the Book of Sirach, “Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms (giving to the poor) atone for sins.”
So how do we bless others with the many blessings we’ve been given by God?


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